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OPS board tables resolution to give Logan emergency powers, will vote on shortening school year

OPS board tables resolution to give Logan emergency powers, will vote on shortening school year

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A message along a fence at Lewis and Clark Middle School. Omaha schools have been closed since March 9 for spring break, and classes have been canceled through May 31 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Omaha Public Schools board will vote Monday night on ending the already abbreviated school year.

The last day of school on the current calendar is May 22. Under the proposed changes, the last day of school would be May 15. May 18, 19 and 20 would be workdays for teachers. And May 21 through June 5 would be professional development days for teachers.

Other districts in the metro area also have moved up their last days of school. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has told schools statewide to operate without students in their buildings through May 31.

OPS schools have been closed since March 9, the start of spring break. The next week’s classes were canceled because of the coronavirus, as subsequent weeks have been.

The school board also will vote on a $1.3 million purchase of 2,000 iPads with cellular data capabilities, plus cases, for summer school use.

The school board, which typically meets twice a month, already met Wednesday. During that meeting, the board voted 5-3 to table a COVID-19 emergency resolution.

Among other things, the resolution would have allowed Superintendent Cheryl Logan to close schools in the district, implement emergency plans and modify collective bargaining agreements. Logan would have had to consult the board president and vice president before taking any action.

Megan Neiles-Brasch, the attorney for the district, told the school board that the resolution would maximize the district’s ability to act nimbly and flexibly during the pandemic. She noted that districts across the state have passed similar resolutions.

But four school board members said they were hesitant to give away their power as elected officials.

Board member Ben Perlman noted that the district has closed schools and set up emergency food services for a month without a resolution. He asked why the board couldn’t convene an emergency meeting if needed.

Perlman said that he trusts Logan but that the public school system has an elected board where every member is held accountable and provides oversight.

“You can have complete faith and trust in your superintendent and still understand that it’s our job, always, to provide that oversight,” he said. “That’s just how a public school system works.

Board members Amanda Ryan and Tracy Casady both said they felt the resolution was too broad and gave away the board members’ power as elected officials.

Board member Lou Ann Goding said she felt the resolution was past the time when it would be useful. She noted that the Lincoln Public Schools board passed a similar resolution more than a month ago.

The Lincoln school board had previously done so when the district’s office building was destroyed in a fire in 2011.

Logan said similar resolutions have been passed in school districts across Nebraska and the nation.

“I don’t know why I’m different from the other superintendents in Nebraska,” Logan said.

She said the board’s reaction was “disappointing” because she doesn’t know what’s going to happen and some kind of an emergency may arise.

“If the board doesn’t feel that I am worthy of that, whatever,” Logan said. “And I’ve heard what you said. And you can say it however you want to, but I feel a different way about that.”

Other districts have passed COVID-19 resolutions that give the superintendents varying powers. Those districts include the Millard Public Schools, the Elkhorn Public Schools and the Papillion-La Vista Community Schools.

The Nebraska State Board of Education earlier this month passed a resolution that allows Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt to submit emergency waivers to the federal government, apply for grants and “to facilitate broad flexibility for the operation of schools.”

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Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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  • Updated

It's hard to say yet what the situation might look like this fall, but possibilities include delaying the start of the school year, separating students into groups and rotating them into school buildings at different times, or using partial or complete distance learning.

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